Legends and Sagas
The Canterbury Tales and Other Works of Chaucer (Middle English), by Geoffery Chaucer, [14th cent.], at sacred-texts.com
The Canterbury Tales
The Man of Law's Tale In Surrye whilom dwelte a compaignye
Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,
That wyde-where senten hir spicerye,
Clothes of gold, and satyns riche of hewe.
Hir chaffare was so thrifty and so newe
That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare
140 With hem, and eek to sellen hem hire ware.
Now fil it that the maistres of that sort
Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende;
Were it for chapmanhod or for disport,
Noon oother message wolde they thider sende,
But comen hemself to Rome; this is the ende.
And in swich place as thoughte hem avantage
For hire entente, they take hir herbergage.
Sojourned han thise merchantz in that toun
A certein tyme, as fil to hire plesance.
150 And so bifel that th' excellent renoun
Of the Emperoures doghter, dame Custance,
Reported was, with every circumstance,
Unto thise Surryen marchantz in swich wyse,
Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.
This was the commune voys of every man:
"Oure Emperour of Rome -- God hym see! --
A doghter hath that, syn the world bigan,
To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,
Nas nevere swich another as is shee.
160 I prey to God in honour hire susteene,
And wolde she were of al Europe the queene.
"In hire is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye;
To alle hire werkes vertu is hir gyde;
Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye.
She is mirour of alle curteisye;
Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,
Hir hand, ministre of fredam for almesse."
And al this voys was sooth, as God is trewe.
170 But now to purpos lat us turne agayn.
Thise marchantz han doon fraught hir shippes newe,
And whan they han this blisful mayden sayn,
Hoom to Surrye been they went ful fayn,
And doon hir nedes as they han doon yoore,
And lyven in wele; I kan sey yow namoore.
Now fil it that thise marchantz stode in grace
Of hym that was the Sowdan of Surrye;
For whan they cam from any strange place,
He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,
180 Make hem good chiere, and bisily espye
Tidynges of sondry regnes, for to leere
The wondres that they myghte seen or heere.
Amonges othere thynges, specially,
Thise marchantz han hym toold of dame Custance
So greet noblesse in ernest, ceriously,
That this Sowdan hath caught so greet plesance
To han hir figure in his remembrance,
That al his lust and al his bisy cure
Was for to love hire while his lyf may dure.
190 Paraventure in thilke large book
Which that men clepe the hevene ywriten was
With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
That he for love sholde han his deeth, allas!
For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,
Is writen, God woot, whoso koude it rede,
The deeth of every man, withouten drede.
In sterres, many a wynter therbiforn,
Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,
Of Pompei, Julius, er they were born;
200 The strif of Thebes; and of Ercules,
Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The deeth; but mennes wittes ben so dulle
That no wight kan wel rede it atte fulle.
This Sowdan for his privee conseil sente,
And, shortly of this matiere for to pace,
He hath to hem declared his entente,
And seyde hem, certein, but he myghte have grace
To han Custance withinne a litel space,
He nas but deed; and charged hem in hye
210 To shapen for his lyf som remedye.
Diverse men diverse thynges seyden;
They argumenten, casten up and doun;
Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden;
They speken of magyk and abusioun.
But finally, as in conclusioun,
They kan nat seen in that noon avantage,
Ne in noon oother wey, save mariage.
Thanne sawe they therinne swich difficultee
By wey of reson, for to speke al playn,
220 By cause that ther was swich diversitee
Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn
They trowe that no "Cristen prince wolde fayn
Wedden his child under oure lawe sweete
That us was taught by Mahoun, oure prophete."
And he answerde, "Rather than I lese
Custance, I wol be cristned, doutelees.
I moot been hires; I may noon oother chese.
I prey yow hoold youre argumentz in pees;
Saveth my lyf, and beth noght recchelees
230 To geten hire that hath my lyf in cure,
For in this wo I may nat longe endure."
What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?
I seye, by tretys and embassadrie,
And by the popes mediacioun,
And al the chirche, and al the chivalrie,
That in destruccioun of mawmettrie,
And in encrees of Cristes lawe deere,
They been acorded, so as ye shal heere:
How that the Sowdan and his baronage
240 And alle his liges sholde ycristned be,
And he shal han Custance in mariage,
And certein gold, I noot what quantitee;
And heer-to founden sufficient suretee.
This same accord was sworn on eyther syde;
Now, faire Custance, almyghty God thee gyde!
Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,
That I sholde tellen al the purveiance
That th' Emperour, of his grete noblesse,
Hath shapen for his doghter, dame Custance.
250 Wel may men knowen that so greet ordinance
May no man tellen in a litel clause
As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.
Bisshopes been shapen with hire for to wende,
Lordes, ladies, knyghtes of renoun,
And oother folk ynowe; this is th' ende;
And notified is thurghout the toun
That every wight, with greet devocioun,
Sholde preyen Crist that he this mariage
Receyve in gree and spede this viage.
260 The day is comen of hir departynge;
I seye, the woful day fatal is come,
That ther may be no lenger tariynge,
But forthward they hem dressen, alle and some.
Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,
Ful pale arist, and dresseth hire to wende;
For wel she seeth ther is noon oother ende.
Allas, what wonder is it thogh she wepte,
That shal be sent to strange nacioun
Fro freendes that so tendrely hire kepte,
270 And to be bounden under subjeccioun
Of oon, she knoweth nat his condicioun?
Housbondes been alle goode, and han ben yoore;
That knowen wyves; I dar sey yow na moore.
"Fader," she seyde, "thy wrecched child Custance,
Thy yonge doghter fostred up so softe,
And ye, my mooder, my soverayn plesance
Over alle thyng, out-taken Crist on-lofte,
Custance youre child hire recomandeth ofte
Unto youre grace, for I shal to Surrye,
280 Ne shal I nevere seen yow moore with ye.
"Allas, unto the Barbre nacioun
I moste anoon, syn that it is youre wille;
But Crist, that starf for our redempcioun
So yeve me grace his heestes to fulfille!
I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille!
Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
And to been under mannes governance."
I trowe at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal
Or Ilion brende, at Thebes the citee,
290 N' at Rome, for the harm thurgh Hanybal
That Romayns hath venquysshed tymes thre,
Nas herd swich tendre wepyng for pitee
As in the chambre was for hire departynge;
But forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or synge.
O firste moevyng! Crueel firmament,
With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay
And hurlest al from est til occident
That naturelly wolde holde another way,
Thy crowdyng set the hevene in swich array
300 At the bigynnyng of this fiers viage,
That crueel Mars hath slayn this mariage.
Infortunat ascendent tortuous,
Of which the lord is helplees falle, allas,
Out of his angle into the derkeste hous!
O Mars, o atazir, as in this cas!
O fieble moone, unhappy been thy paas!
Thou knyttest thee ther thou art nat receyved;
Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.
Imprudent Emperour of Rome, allas!
310 Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?
Is no tyme bet than oother in swich cas?
Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,
Namely to folk of heigh condicioun?
Noght whan a roote is of a burthe yknowe?
Allas, we been to lewed or to slowe!
To shippe is brought this woful faire mayde
Solempnely, with every circumstance.
"Now Jhesu Crist be with yow alle!" she sayde;
Ther nys namoore, but "Farewel, faire Custance!"
320 She peyneth hire to make good contenance;
And forth I lete hire saille in this manere,
And turne I wole agayn to my matere.
The mooder of the Sowdan, welle of vices,
Espied hath hir sones pleyn entente,
How he wol lete his olde sacrifices;
And right anon she for hir conseil sente,
And they been come to knowe what she mente.
And whan assembled was this folk in-feere,
She sette hire doun, and seyde as ye shal heere.
330 "Lordes," quod she, "ye knowen everichon,
How that my sone in point is for to lete
The hooly lawes of our Alkaron,
Yeven by Goddes message Makomete.
But oon avow to grete God I heete,
The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte
Or Makometes lawe out of myn herte!
"What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe
But thraldom to oure bodies and penance,
And afterward in helle to be drawe,
340 For we reneyed Mahoun oure creance?
But, lordes, wol ye maken assurance,
As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore,
And I shal make us sauf for everemoore?"
They sworen and assenten, every man,
To lyve with hire and dye, and by hire stonde,
And everich, in the beste wise he kan,
To strengthen hire shal alle his frendes fonde;
And she hath this emprise ytake on honde,
Which ye shal heren that I shal devyse,
350 And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse:
"We shul first feyne us cristendom to take --
Coold water shal nat greve us but a lite! --
And I shal swich a feeste and revel make
That, as I trowe, I shal the Sowdan quite.
For thogh his wyf be cristned never so white,
She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
Thogh she a font-ful water with hire lede."
O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee!
Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde!
360 O serpent under femynynytee,
Lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde!
O feyned womman, al that may confounde
Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malice,
Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice!
O Sathan, envious syn thilke day
That thou were chaced from oure heritage,
Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
Thou madest Eva brynge us in servage;
Thou wolt fordoon this Cristen mariage.
370 Thyn instrument so -- weylawey the while! --
Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt bigile.
This Sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warye,
Leet prively hire conseil goon hire way.
What sholde I in this tale lenger tarye?
She rydeth to the Sowdan on a day,
And seyde hym that she wolde reneye hir lay,
And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,
Repentynge hire she hethen was so longe,
Bisechynge hym to doon hire that honour,
380 That she moste han the Cristen folk to feeste --
"To plesen hem I wol do my labour."
The Sowdan seith, "I wol doon at youre heeste,"
And knelynge thanketh hire of that requeste.
So glad he was, he nyste what to seye.
She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.
Arryved been this Cristen folk to londe
In Surrye, with a greet solempne route,
And hastifliche this Sowdan sente his sonde
First to his mooder, and al the regne aboute,
390 And seyde his wyf was comen, out of doute,
And preyde hire for to ryde agayn the queene,
The honour of his regne to susteene.
Greet was the prees, and riche was th' array
Of Surryens and Romayns met yfeere;
The mooder of the Sowdan, riche and gay,
Receyveth hire with also glad a cheere
As any mooder myghte hir doghter deere,
And to the nexte citee ther bisyde
A softe paas solempnely they ryde.
400 Noght trowe I the triumphe of Julius,
Of which that Lucan maketh swich a boost,
Was roialler ne moore curius
Than was th' assemblee of this blisful hoost.
But this scorpioun, this wikked goost,
The Sowdanesse, for al hire flaterynge,
Caste under this ful mortally to stynge.
The Sowdan comth hymself soone after this
So roially that wonder is to telle,
And welcometh hire with alle joye and blis.
410 And thus in murthe and joye I lete hem dwelle;
The fruyt of this matiere is that I telle.
Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste
That revel stynte, and men goon to hir reste.
The tyme cam, this olde Sowdanesse
Ordeyned hath this feeste of which I tolde,
And to the feeste Cristen folk hem dresse
In general, ye, bothe yonge and olde.
Heere may men feeste and roialtee biholde,
And deyntees mo than I kan yow devyse;
420 But al to deere they boghte it er they ryse.
O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour
To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse,
The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse.
Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse:
Upon thy glade day have in thy mynde
The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.
For shortly for to tellen, at o word,
The Sowdan and the Cristen everichone
430 Been al tohewe and stiked at the bord,
But it were oonly dame Custance allone.
This olde Sowdanesse, cursed krone,
Hath with hir freendes doon this cursed dede,
For she hirself wolde al the contree lede.
Ne ther was Surryen noon that was converted,
That of the conseil of the Sowdan woot,
That he nas al tohewe er he asterted.
And Custance han they take anon, foot-hoot,
And in a ship al steerelees, God woot,
440 They han hir set, and bidde hire lerne saille
Out of Surrye agaynward to Ytaille.
A certein tresor that she thider ladde,
And, sooth to seyn, vitaille greet plentee
They han hire yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,
And forth she sailleth in the salte see.
O my Custance, ful of benignytee,
O Emperoures yonge doghter deere,
He that is lord of Fortune be thy steere!
She blesseth hire, and with ful pitous voys
450 Unto the croys of Crist thus seyde she:
"O cleere, o welful auter, hooly croys,
Reed of the Lambes blood ful of pitee,
That wessh the world fro the olde iniquitee,
Me fro the feend and fro his clawes kepe,
That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.
"Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
That oonly worthy were for to bere
The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe,
The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spere,
460 Flemere of feendes out of hym and here
On which thy lymes feithfully extenden,
Me kepe, and yif me myght my lyf t' amenden."
Yeres and dayes fleet this creature
Thurghout the See of Grece unto the Strayte
Of Marrok, as it was hire aventure.
On many a sory meel now may she bayte;
After hir deeth ful often may she wayte,
Er that the wilde wawes wol hire dryve
Unto the place ther she shal arryve.
470 Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn
Eek at the feeste? Who myghte hir body save?
And I answere to that demande agayn,
Who saved Danyel in the horrible cave
Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,
Was with the leon frete er he asterte?
No wight but God that he bar in his herte.
God liste to shewe his wonderful myracle
In hire, for we sholde seen his myghty werkis;
Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,
480 By certeine meenes ofte, as knowen clerkis,
Dooth thyng for certein ende that ful derk is
To mannes wit, that for oure ignorance
Ne konne noght knowe his prudent purveiance.
Now sith she was nat at the feeste yslawe,
Who kepte hire fro the drenchyng in the see?
Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe
Til he was spouted up at Nynyvee?
Wel may men knowe it was no wight but he
That kepte peple Ebrayk from hir drenchynge,
490 With drye feet thurghout the see passynge.
Who bad the foure spirites of tempest
That power han t' anoyen lond and see,
Bothe north and south, and also west and est,
"Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree"?
Soothly, the comandour of that was he
That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte
As wel whan she wook as whan she slepte.
Where myghte this womman mete and drynke have
Thre yeer and moore? How lasteth hire vitaille?
500 Who fedde the Egipcien Marie in the cave,
Or in desert? No wight but Crist, sanz faille.
Fyve thousand folk it was as greet mervaille
With loves fyve and fisshes two to feede.
God sente his foyson at hir grete neede.
She dryveth forth into oure occian
Thurghout oure wilde see, til atte laste
Under an hoold that nempnen I ne kan,
Fer in Northhumberlond the wawe hire caste,
And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste
510 That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde;
The wyl of Crist was that she sholde abyde.
The constable of the castel doun is fare
To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,
And foond this wery womman ful of care;
He foond also the tresor that she broghte.
In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,
The lyf out of hir body for to twynne,
Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne.
A maner Latyn corrupt was hir speche,
520 But algates therby was she understonde.
The constable, whan hym lyst no longer seche,
This woful womman broghte he to the londe.
She kneleth doun and thanketh Goddes sonde;
But what she was she wolde no man seye,
For foul ne fair, thogh that she sholde deye.
She seyde she was so mazed in the see
That she forgat hir mynde, by hir trouthe.
The constable hath of hire so greet pitee,
And eek his wyf, that they wepen for routhe.
530 She was so diligent, withouten slouthe,
To serve and plesen everich in that place
That alle hir loven that looken in hir face.
This constable and dame Hermengyld, his wyf,
Were payens, and that contree everywhere;
But Hermengyld loved hire right as hir lyf,
And Custance hath so longe sojourned there,
In orisons, with many a bitter teere,
Til Jhesu hath converted thurgh his grace
Dame Hermengyld, constablesse of that place.
540 In al that lond no Cristen dorste route;
Alle Cristen folk been fled fro that contree
Thurgh payens, that conquereden al aboute
The plages of the north, by land and see.
To Walys fledde the Cristyanytee
Of olde Britons dwellynge in this ile;
Ther was hir refut for the meene while.
But yet nere Cristene Britons so exiled
That ther nere somme that in hir privetee
Honoured Crist and hethen folk bigiled,
550 And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three.
That oon of hem was blynd and myghte nat see,
But it were with thilke eyen of his mynde
With whiche men seen, after that they ben blynde.
Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,
For which the constable and his wyf also
And Custance han ytake the righte way
Toward the see a furlong wey or two,
To pleyen and to romen to and fro,
And in hir walk this blynde man they mette,
560 Croked and oold, with eyen faste yshette.
"In name of Crist," cride this blinde Britoun,
"Dame Hermengyld, yif me my sighte agayn!"
This lady weex affrayed of the soun,
Lest that hir housbonde, shortly for to sayn,
Wolde hire for Jhesu Cristes love han slayn,
Til Custance made hire boold, and bad hire wirche
The wyl of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.
The constable weex abasshed of that sight,
And seyde, "What amounteth al this fare?"
570 Custance answerde, "Sire, it is Cristes myght,
That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare."
And so ferforth she gan oure lay declare
That she the constable, er that it was eve
Converteth, and on Crist made hym bileve.
This constable was nothyng lord of this place
Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond,
But kepte it strongly many a wyntres space
Under Alla, kyng of al Northhumbrelond,
That was ful wys, and worthy of his hond
580 Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel heere;
But turne I wole agayn to my mateere.
Sathan, that evere us waiteth to bigile,
Saugh of Custance al hire perfeccioun,
And caste anon how he myghte quite hir while,
And made a yong knyght that dwelte in that toun
Love hire so hoote, of foul affeccioun,
That verraily hym thoughte he sholde spille,
But he of hire myghte ones have his wille.
He woweth hire, but it availleth noght;
590 She wolde do no synne, by no weye.
And for despit he compassed in his thoght
To maken hire on shameful deeth to deye.
He wayteth whan the constable was aweye,
And pryvely upon a nyght he crepte
In Hermengyldes chambre, whil she slepte.
Wery, forwaked in hire orisouns,
Slepeth Custance, and Hermengyld also.
This knyght, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,
Al softely is to the bed ygo,
600 And kitte the throte of Hermengyld atwo,
And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,
And wente his wey, ther God yeve hym meschance!
Soone after cometh this constable hoom agayn,
And eek Alla, that kyng was of that lond,
And saugh his wyf despitously yslayn,
For which ful ofte he weep and wroong his hond,
And in the bed the blody knyf he fond
By Dame Custance. Allas, what myghte she seye?
For verray wo hir wit was al aweye.
610 To kyng Alla was toold al this meschance,
And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wise
That in a ship was founden this Custance,
As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.
The kynges herte of pitee gan agryse,
Whan he saugh so benigne a creature
Falle in disese and in mysaventure.
For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,
So stant this innocent bifore the kyng.
This false knyght, that hath this tresoun wroght,
620 Berth hire on hond that she hath doon thys thyng.
But nathelees, ther was greet moornyng
Among the peple, and seyn they kan nat gesse
That she had doon so greet a wikkednesse,
For they han seyn hire evere so vertuous,
And lovynge Hermengyld right as hir lyf.
Of this baar witnesse everich in that hous,
Save he that Hermengyld slow with his knyf.
This gentil kyng hath caught a greet motyf
Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere
630 Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.
Allas! Custance, thou hast no champioun,
Ne fighte kanstow noght, so weylaway!
But he that starf for our redempcioun,
And boond Sathan (and yet lith ther he lay),
So be thy stronge champion this day!
For, but if Crist open myracle kithe,
Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swithe.
She sette hire doun on knees, and thus she sayde:
"Immortal God, that savedest Susanne
640 Fro false blame, and thou, merciful mayde,
Marie I meene, doghter to Seint Anne,
Bifore whos child angeles synge Osanne,
If I be giltlees of this felonye,
My socour be, for ellis shal I dye!"
Have ye nat seyn somtyme a pale face,
Among a prees, of hym that hath be lad
Toward his deeth, wher as hym gat no grace,
And swich a colour in his face hath had
Men myghte knowe his face that was bistad
650 Amonges alle the faces in that route?
So stant Custance, and looketh hire aboute.
O queenes, lyvynge in prosperitee,
Duchesses, and ye ladyes everichone,
Haveth som routhe on hire adversitee!
An Emperoures doghter stant allone;
She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.
O blood roial, that stondest in this drede,
Fer been thy freendes at thy grete nede!
This Alla kyng hath swich compassioun,
660 As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,
That from his eyen ran the water doun.
"Now hastily do fecche a book," quod he,
"And if this knyght wol sweren how that she
This womman slow, yet wol we us avyse
Whom that we wole that shal been oure justise."
A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles,
Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon
She gilty was, and in the meene whiles
An hand hym smoot upon the nekke-boon,
670 That doun he fil atones as a stoon,
And bothe his eyen broste out of his face
In sighte of every body in that place.
A voys was herd in general audience,
And seyde, "Thou hast desclaundred, giltelees,
The doghter of hooly chirche in heigh presence;
Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees!"
Of this mervaille agast was al the prees;
As mazed folk they stoden everichone,
For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.
680 Greet was the drede and eek the repentance
Of hem that hadden wrong suspecioun
Upon this sely innocent, Custance;
And for this miracle, in conclusioun,
And by Custances mediacioun,
The kyng -- and many another in that place --
Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace!
This false knyght was slayn for his untrouthe
By juggement of Alla hastifly;
And yet Custance hadde of his deeth greet routhe.
690 And after this Jhesus, of his mercy,
Made Alla wedden ful solempnely
This hooly mayden, that is so bright and sheene;
And thus hath Crist ymaad Custance a queene.
But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,
Of this weddyng but Donegild, and namo,
The kynges mooder, ful of tirannye?
Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast atwo.
She wolde noght hir sone had do so;
Hir thoughte a despit that he sholde take
700 So strange a creature unto his make.
Me list nat of the chaf, ne of the stree,
Maken so long a tale as of the corn.
What sholde I tellen of the roialtee
At mariage, or which cours goth biforn;
Who bloweth in a trumpe or in an horn?
The fruyt of every tale is for to seye:
They ete, and drynke, and daunce, and synge, and pleye.
They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right;
For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges,
710 They moste take in pacience at nyght
Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges
To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges,
And leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside,
As for the tyme -- it may no bet bitide.
On hire he gat a knave child anon,
And to a bisshop, and his constable eke,
He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is gon
To Scotlond-ward, his foomen for to seke.
Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,
720 So longe is goon with childe, til that stille
She halt hire chambre, abidyng Cristes wille.
The tyme is come a knave child she beer;
Mauricius at the fontstoon they hym calle.
This constable dooth forth come a messageer,
And wroot unto his kyng, that cleped was Alle,
How that this blisful tidyng is bifalle,
And othere tidynges spedeful for to seye.
He taketh the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.
This messager, to doon his avantage,
730 Unto the kynges mooder rideth swithe,
And salueth hire ful faire in his langage:
"Madame," quod he, "ye may be glad and blithe,
And thanketh God an hundred thousand sithe!
My lady queene hath child, withouten doute,
To joye and blisse to al this regne aboute.
"Lo, heere the lettres seled of this thyng,
That I moot bere with al the haste I may.
If ye wol aught unto youre sone the kyng,
I am youre servant, bothe nyght and day."
740 Donegild answerde, "As now at this tyme, nay;
But heere al nyght I wol thou take thy reste.
To-morwe wol I seye thee what me leste."
This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,
And stolen were his lettres pryvely
Out of his box, whil he sleep as a swyn;
And countrefeted was ful subtilly
Another lettre, wroght ful synfully,
Unto the kyng direct of this mateere
Fro his constable, as ye shal after heere.
750 The lettre spak the queene delivered was
Of so horrible a feendly creature
That in the castel noon so hardy was
That any while dorste ther endure.
The mooder was an elf, by aventure
Ycomen, by charmes or by sorcerie,
And every wight hateth hir compaignye.
Wo was this kyng whan he this lettre had sayn,
But to no wight he tolde his sorwes soore,
But of his owene hand he wroot agayn,
760 "Welcome the sonde of Crist for everemoore
To me that am now lerned in his loore!
Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce;
My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce.
"Kepeth this child, al be it foul or feir,
And eek my wyf, unto myn hoom-comynge.
Crist, whan hym list, may sende me an heir
Moore agreable than this to my likynge."
This lettre he seleth, pryvely wepynge,
Which to the messager was take soone,
770 And forth he gooth; ther is na moore to doone.
O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,
Strong is thy breeth, thy lymes faltren ay,
And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.
Thy mynde is lorn, thou janglest as a jay,
Thy face is turned in a newe array.
Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
Ther is no conseil hyd, withouten doute.
O Donegild, I ne have noon Englissh digne
Unto thy malice and thy tirannye!
780 And therfore to the feend I thee resigne;
Lat hym enditen of thy traitorie!
Fy, mannysh, fy! -- o nay, by God, I lye --
Fy, feendlych spirit, for I dar wel telle,
Thogh thou heere walke, thy spirit is in helle!
This messager comth fro the kyng agayn,
And at the kynges moodres court he lighte,
And she was of this messager ful fayn,
And plesed hym in al that ever she myghte.
He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte;
790 He slepeth, and he fnorteth in his gyse
Al nyght, til the sonne gan aryse.
Eft were his lettres stolen everychon,
And countrefeted lettres in this wyse:
"The king comandeth his constable anon,
Up peyne of hangyng, and on heigh juyse,
That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse
Custance in-with his reawme for t' abyde
Thre dayes and o quarter of a tyde;
"But in the same ship as he hire fond,
800 Hire, and hir yonge sone, and al hir geere,
He sholde putte, and croude hire fro the lond,
And charge hire that she never eft coome theere."
O my Custance, wel may thy goost have feere,
And, slepynge, in thy dreem been in penance,
Whan Donegild cast al this ordinance.
This messager on morwe, whan he wook,
Unto the castel halt the nexte way,
And to the constable he the lettre took;
And whan that he this pitous lettre say,
810 Ful ofte he seyde, "Allas and weylaway!"
"Lord Crist," quod he, "how may this world endure,
So ful of synne is many a creature?
"O myghty God, if that it be thy wille,
Sith thou art rightful juge, how may it be
That thou wolt suffren innocentz to spille,
And wikked folk regne in prosperitee?
O goode Custance, allas, so wo is me
That I moot be thy tormentour, or deye
On shames deeth; ther is noon oother weye."
820 Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place
Whan that the kyng this cursed lettre sente,
And Custance, with a deedly pale face,
The ferthe day toward hir ship she wente.
But nathelees she taketh in good entente
The wyl of Crist, and knelynge on the stronde,
She seyde, "Lord, ay welcome be thy sonde!
"He that me kepte fro the false blame
While I was on the lond amonges yow,
He kan me kepe from harm and eek fro shame
830 In salte see, althogh I se noght how.
As strong as evere he was, he is yet now.
In hym triste I, and in his mooder deere,
That is to me my seyl and eek my steere."
Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,
And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,
"Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm."
With that hir coverchief of hir heed she breyde,
And over his litel eyen she it leyde,
And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
840 And into hevene hire eyen up she caste.
"Mooder," quod she, "and mayde bright, Marie,
Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement
Mankynde was lorn, and damned ay to dye,
For which thy child was on a croys yrent.
Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;
Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene
Thy wo and any wo man may sustene.
"Thow sawe thy child yslayn bifore thyne yen,
And yet now lyveth my litel child, parfay!
850 Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,
Thow glorie of wommanhede, thow faire may,
Thow haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,
Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse
Rewest on every reweful in distresse.
"O litel child, allas! What is thy gilt,
That nevere wroghtest synne as yet, pardee?
Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt?
O mercy, deere constable," quod she,
"As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee;
860 And if thou darst nat saven hym, for blame,
So kys hym ones in his fadres name!"
Therwith she looked bakward to the londe,
And seyde, "Farewel, housbonde routhelees!"
And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde
Toward the ship -- hir folweth al the prees --
And evere she preyeth hire child to holde his pees;
And taketh hir leve, and with an hooly entente
She blisseth hire, and into ship she wente.
Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,
870 Habundantly for hire ful longe space,
And othere necessaries that sholde nede
She hadde ynogh -- heryed be Goddes grace!
For wynd and weder almyghty God purchace,
And brynge hire hoom! I kan no bettre seye,
But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.
Alla the kyng comth hoom soone after this
Unto his castel, of the which I tolde,
And asketh where his wyf and his child is.
The constable gan aboute his herte colde,
880 And pleynly al the manere he hym tolde
As ye han herd -- I kan telle it no bettre --
And sheweth the kyng his seel and eek his lettre,
And seyde, "Lord, as ye comanded me
Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein."
This messager tormented was til he
Moste biknowe and tellen, plat and pleyn,
Fro nyght to nyght, in what place he had leyn;
And thus, by wit and sotil enquerynge,
Ymagined was by whom this harm gan sprynge.
890 The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,
And al the venym of this cursed dede,
But in what wise, certeinly, I noot.
Th' effect is this: that Alla, out of drede,
His mooder slow -- that may men pleynly rede --
For that she traitour was to hire ligeance.
Thus endeth olde Donegild, with meschance!
The sorwe that this Alla nyght and day
Maketh for his wyf, and for his child also,
Ther is no tonge that it telle may.
900 But now wol I unto Custance go,
That fleteth in the see, in peyne and wo,
Fyve yeer and moore, as liked Cristes sonde,
Er that hir ship approched unto londe.
Under an hethen castel, atte laste,
Of which the name in my text noght I fynde,
Custance, and eek hir child, the see up caste.
Almyghty God, that saveth al mankynde,
Have on Custance and on hir child som mynde,
That fallen is in hethen hand eft soone,
910 In point to spille, as I shal telle yow soone.
Doun fro the castel comth ther many a wight
To gauren on this ship and on Custance.
But shortly, from the castel, on a nyght,
The lordes styward -- God yeve hym meschance! --
A theef, that hadde reneyed oure creance,
Cam into ship allone, and seyde he sholde
Hir lemman be, wher-so she wolde or nolde.
Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon;
Hir child cride, and she cride pitously.
920 But blisful Marie heelp hire right anon;
For with hir struglyng wel and myghtily
The theef fil over bord al sodeynly,
And in the see he dreynte for vengeance;
And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.
O foule lust of luxurie, lo, thyn ende!
Nat oonly that thou feyntest mannes mynde,
But verraily thou wolt his body shende.
Th' ende of thy werk, or of thy lustes blynde,
Is compleynyng. Hou many oon may men fynde
930 That noght for werk somtyme, but for th' entente
To doon this synne, been outher slayn or shente!
How may this wayke womman han this strengthe
Hire to defende agayn this renegat?
O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,
Hou myghte David make thee so maat,
So yong and of armure so desolaat?
Hou dorste he looke upon thy dredful face?
Wel may men seen, it nas but Goddes grace.
Who yaf Judith corage or hardynesse
940 To sleen hym Olofernus in his tente,
And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
The peple of God? I seye, for this entente,
That right as God spirit of vigour sente
To hem and saved hem out of meschance,
So sente he myght and vigour to Custance.
Forth gooth hir ship thurghout the narwe mouth
Of Jubaltare and Septe, dryvynge ay
Somtyme west, and somtyme north and south,
And somtyme est, ful many a wery day,
950 Til Cristes mooder -- blessed be she ay! --
Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,
To make an ende of al hir hevynesse.
Now lat us stynte of Custance but a throwe,
And speke we of the Romayn Emperour,
That out of Surrye hath by lettres knowe
The slaughtre of cristen folk, and dishonour
Doon to his doghter by a fals traytour,
I mene the cursed wikked Sowdanesse
That at the feeste leet sleen bothe moore and lesse.
960 For which this Emperour hath sent anon
His senatour, with roial ordinance,
And othere lordes, God woot, many oon,
On Surryens to taken heigh vengeance.
They brennen, sleen, and brynge hem to meschance
Ful many a day; but shortly -- this is th' ende --
Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.
This senatour repaireth with victorie
To Rome-ward, saillynge ful roially,
And mette the ship dryvynge, as seith the storie,
970 In which Custance sit ful pitously.
Nothyng ne knew he what she was, ne why
She was in swich array, ne she nyl seye
Of hire estaat, althogh she sholde deye.
He bryngeth hire to Rome, and to his wyf
He yaf hire, and hir yonge sone also;
And with the senatour she ladde hir lyf.
Thus kan Oure Lady bryngen out of wo
Woful Custance, and many another mo.
And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,
980 In hooly werkes evere, as was hir grace.
The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,
But for al that she knew hire never the moore.
I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,
But to kyng Alla, which I spak of yoore,
That for his wyf wepeth and siketh soore,
I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance
Under the senatoures governance.
Kyng Alla, which that hadde his mooder slayn,
Upon a day fil in swich repentance
990 That, if I shortly tellen shal and playn,
To Rome he comth to receyven his penance;
And putte hym in the Popes ordinance
In heigh and logh, and Jhesu Crist bisoghte
Foryeve his wikked werkes that he wroghte.
The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born,
How Alla kyng shal comen in pilgrymage,
By herbergeours that wenten hym biforn;
For which the senatour, as was usage,
Rood hym agayns, and many of his lynage,
1000 As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence
As to doon any kyng a reverence.
Greet cheere dooth this noble senatour
To kyng Alla, and he to hym also;
Everich of hem dooth oother greet honour.
And so bifel that in a day or two
This senatour is to kyng Alla go
To feste, and shortly, if I shal nat lye,
Custances sone wente in his compaignye.
Som men wolde seyn at requeste of Custance
1010 This senatour hath lad this child to feeste;
I may nat tellen every circumstance --
Be as be may, ther was he at the leeste.
But sooth is this, that at his moodres heeste
Biforn Alla, durynge the metes space,
The child stood, lookynge in the kynges face.
This Alla kyng hath of this child greet wonder,
And to the senatour he seyde anon,
"Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?"
"I noot," quod he, "by God, and by Seint John!
1020 A mooder he hath, but fader hath he noon
That I of woot" -- and shortly, in a stounde,
He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.
"But God woot," quod this senatour also,
"So vertuous a lyvere in my lyf
Ne saugh I nevere as she, ne herde of mo,
Of worldly wommen, mayde, ne of wyf.
I dar wel seyn hir hadde levere a knyf
Thurghout hir brest, than ben a womman wikke;
There is no man koude brynge hire to that prikke."
1030 Now was this child as lyk unto Custance
As possible is a creature to be.
This Alla hath the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and ther on mused he
If that the childes mooder were aught she
That is his wyf, and pryvely he sighte,
And spedde hym fro the table that he myghte.
"Parfay," thoghte he, "fantome is in myn heed!
I oghte deme, of skilful juggement,
That in the salte see my wyf is deed."
1040 And afterward he made his argument:
"What woot I if that Crist have hyder ysent
My wyf by see, as wel as he hire sente
To my contree fro thennes that she wente?"
And after noon, hoom with the senatour
Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.
This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,
And hastifly he sente after Custaunce.
But trusteth weel, hire liste nat to daunce
Whan that she wiste wherfore was that sonde;
1050 Unnethe upon hir feet she myghte stonde.
Whan Alla saugh his wyf, faire he hire grette,
And weep that it was routhe for to see;
For at the firste look he on hire sette
He knew wel verraily that it was she.
And she, for sorwe, as doumb stant as a tree,
So was hir herte shet in hir distresse,
Whan she remembred his unkyndenesse.
Twyes she swowned in his owene sighte;
He weep, and hym excuseth pitously.
1060 "Now God," quod he, "and his halwes brighte
So wisly on my soule as have mercy,
That of youre harm as giltelees am I
As is Maurice my sone, so lyk youre face;
Elles the feend me fecche out of this place!"
Long was the sobbyng and the bitter peyne,
Er that hir woful hertes myghte cesse;
Greet was the pitee for to heere hem pleyne,
Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.
I pray yow alle my labour to relesse;
1070 I may nat telle hir wo until to-morwe,
I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.
But finally, whan that the sothe is wist
That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,
I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two
That, save the joye that lasteth everemo,
Ther is noon lyk that any creature
Hath seyn or shal, whil that the world may dure.
Tho preyde she hir housbonde mekely,
1080 In relief of hir longe, pitous pyne,
That he wolde preye hir fader specially
That of his magestee he wolde enclyne
To vouche sauf som day with hym to dyne.
She preyde hym eek he sholde by no weye
Unto hir fader no word of hire seye.
Som men wolde seyn how that the child Maurice
Dooth this message unto this Emperour;
But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce
To hym that was of so sovereyn honour
1090 As he that is of Cristen folk the flour,
Sente any child, but it is bet to deeme
He wente hymself, and so it may wel seeme.
This Emperour hath graunted gentilly
To come to dyner, as he hym bisoughte;
And wel rede I he looked bisily
Upon this child, and on his doghter thoghte.
Alla goth to his in, and as hym oghte,
Arrayed for this feste in every wise
As ferforth as his konnyng may suffise.
1100 The morwe cam, and Alla gan hym dresse,
And eek his wyf, this Emperour to meete;
And forth they ryde in joye and in gladnesse.
And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,
She lighte doun, and falleth hym to feete.
"Fader," quod she, "youre yonge child Custance
Is now ful clene out of youre remembrance.
"I am youre doghter Custance," quod she,
"That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye.
It am I, fader, that in the salte see
1110 Was put allone and dampned for to dye.
Now, goode fader, mercy I yow crye!
Sende me namoore unto noon hethenesse,
But thonketh my lord heere of his kyndenesse."
Who kan the pitous joye tellen al
Bitwixe hem thre, syn they been thus ymette?
But of my tale make an ende I shal;
The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.
This glade folk to dyner they hem sette;
In joye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle
1120 A thousand foold wel moore than I kan telle.
This child Maurice was sithen Emperour
Maad by the Pope, and lyved cristenly;
To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour.
But I lete al his storie passen by;
Of Custance is my tale specially.
In the olde Romayn geestes may men fynde
Maurices lyf; I bere it noght in mynde.
This kyng Alla, whan he his tyme say,
With his Custance, his hooly wyf so sweete,
1130 To Engelond been they come the righte way,
Wher as they lyve in joye and in quiete.
But litel while it lasteth, I yow heete,
Joye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde;
Fro day to nyght it changeth as the tyde.
Who lyved euere in swich delit o day
That hym ne moeved outher conscience,
Or ire, or talent, or som kynnes affray,
Envye, or pride, or passion, or offence?
I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,
1140 That litel while in joye or in plesance
Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.
For Deeth, that taketh of heigh and logh his rente,
Whan passed was a yeer, evene as I gesse,
Out of this world this kyng Alla he hente,
For whom Custance hath ful greet hevynesse.
Now lat us prayen God his soule blesse!
And dame Custance, finally to seye,
Toward the toun of Rome goth hir weye.
To Rome is come this hooly creature,
1150 And fyndeth hire freendes hoole and sounde;
Now is she scaped al hire aventure.
And whan that she hir fader hath yfounde,
Doun on hir knees falleth she to grounde;
Wepynge for tendrenesse in herte blithe,
She heryeth God an hundred thousand sithe.
In vertu and in hooly almus-dede
They lyven alle, and nevere asonder wende;
Til deeth departeth hem, this lyf they lede.
And fareth now weel! my tale is at an ende.
1160 Now Jhesu Crist, that of his myght may sende
Joye after wo, governe us in his grace,
And kepe us alle that been in this place! Amen
Next: The Man of Law's Epilogue